There are basically three types of IT services providers available to help businesses handle their needs. In this blog we’ll look at who they are and what they do. In our next blog we’ll explore how to align your needs with their offerings, so that you can confidently determine which one is right for you.
IT services providers who charge an hourly fee are typically small companies – sometimes even just one person – who provide break/fix services. From a full-blown hard drive crash to a slow computer, if you have an IT problem, you can call an hourly provider to take a look, do some troubleshooting and hopefully resolve it completely.
The obvious advantage to an hourly provider is that you only have to pay for their services when you have a problem. As long as everything is running smoothly, you incur no costs. Of course, that can make it hard to budget when a big problem does come along. Unless you’re allocating a regular amount to set aside funds for potential problems, a break/fix approach can leave you in – well, quite a fix, financially.
Another point to consider is that the simple break/fix approach may not be as simple as it seems. For example, the big problem that drives you to finally call in an hourly provider could turn out to be something that could have been avoided with ongoing, more proactive IT services – which hourly providers don’t offer.
IT Project Providers
IT project providers specialize in coming in to carry out major technology initiatives, such as equipment upgrades, software migrations or other IT improvements. Here are a few examples of circumstances under which you would consider using an IT project provider:
- The servers you’ve relied on for so long aren’t so reliable anymore.
- You’re ready to move your email to a Microsoft Exchange environment.
- You need from-the-ground-up network design and security.
- You want to replace your traditional phone service with a VoIP system.
- Your business is starting the shift from on-premises systems to the cloud.
As those examples suggest, the scope of what IT project providers do is much larger than anything you would call in an hourly provider to do. Yet the two types are similar in that they are typically engaged to come in to handle one specific problem or project, as opposed to providing ongoing consultation about your IT environment as a whole.
That leads us to the downside of engaging a provider on a project basis, which is that they’re operating in a sort of vacuum. They have no knowledge of the larger general IT issues in your business that might influence how best to execute on a particular project. For this reason, we often recommend that companies that need help with one project find it from a managed services provider (MSP) rather than a project provider.
Managed Services Providers (MSPs)
MSPs manage an organization’s entire IT operation for a fixed monthly fee, maintaining workstations and servers, keeping software up to date, monitoring performance to detect potential problems, providing help desk services, managing network security, providing managed hosting for companies that use cloud services – and doing whatever else a business requires to keep technology operations running smoothly. In short, MSPs do everything in-house IT would do, but on a contracted basis rather than through a full-time, fully staffed internal department. Hiring an MSP instead of having IT in-house makes sense when technology is not a core competency for a business, nor part of its main mission. By contracting out ongoing IT management to a specialized company, businesses can avoid the hefty cost of a high-end full-time employee or team while still ensuring that all their IT needs are met.
Another important advantage of MSPs is that they get to know the systems they support extremely well, which means they have in-depth knowledge that can be invaluable when it’s time to plan and implement upgrades or other special projects.
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Bill McCharen, COO
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